The first time I ever heard of ISO was in 1990. Three years prior to that the International Organization of Standardization released a series of Quality Management standards known as ISO 9000. There was an ISO 9001, an ISO 9002, and 9003 and 9004 and perhaps more. They were the most popular standards ever issued at that time. Since then other standards have been released and many people have asked me such questions as “What’s the difference between this and that standard?” or “What are all these ISO numbers ISO is about international standards. It is the acronym for the International Organization of Standardization. You might ask why the acronym does not conform letter- by- letter to the title of the organization. That’s a good question. It seems that when the 9000 series standards were released they were released that way because ISO is a Greek prefix (Isobaric, isometric, etc.) meaning “equal”. When we get a product we want it to be equal or the same as the last time we got that product, don’t we? Well, now ISO is the acronym and the logo for the organization itself and all of the standards for which it is responsible.
I was taught that the first international standards were adopted for steam boilers on ocean-going steamships. This was because many of these ships were exploding in the ports and harbors of several nations. After that point so many standards were developed by so many organizations for so many processes, that finally the ISO was formed in 1947 to bring order and uniformity to the process. The ISO is run by a General Assembly that governs the activities of over two hundred international committees and sub-committees who work according to a specific process. These committees do the extremely hard work of drafting, redrafting and finally issuing the standards.
There are currently over 19,000 ISO standards and they cover everything from screw threads to acoustics, from tractors to tools, from food products to nuclear energy and they include such a wide variety of topics it can make your head swim. Textiles, cement, gears and plastics. Leather goods, fans, cranes, tobacco and of course, management systems for quality are all included. There are about a thousand new standards issued every year. Many of them are management systems as illustrated by the following recent and popular topics:
ISO 14000 – Environmental Management Systems Series
ISO 22000 – Food Safety Management Systems Series
ISO 26000 – Social Responsibility Series
ISO 31000 – Risk Management Series
ISO 50000 – Energy Management Series
We live day by day unaware that these standards exist to serve to make our lives smoother. What we get from these standards are products and services that are more consistent. They are the reason that things work well and that they do so in a more efficient, reliable, cleaner and safer manner.
Things fit better, perform better and last longer because of the improved consistency that the standards provide. The standards themselves get better as they are upgraded periodically as required. We owe all of this and a lot more to ISO.
If you want to learn more about ISO, go to www.iso.org. It’s a great web site as you
would expect from the many professionals who work diligently to keep this important
process continually improving.